By lex, on January 10th, 2010
Just ran across an interesting anecdote in the November Pacific Flyer that I just had to share: It turns out that the last German plane to be officially shot down in the ETO was a Fieseler Storch.
The Storch was an unarmed reconnaissance and utility aircraft with exceptional short field capabilities. Bernard Montgomery acquired a captured aircraft for his own personal transport.
But the truly interesting thing about the last German aircraft casualty was the crew that shot them down – also an “unarmed” reconnaissance machine in the form of a Piper L-4 Grasshopper (the military version of a J-3 Cub):
On April 11 Francies and his observer, Lieutenant William Martin, took part in Francies’ 142nd mission and one of the most unusual aerial actions of the war. The 71st Battalion was now the closest American force to Berlin-48 miles. Out on an observation mission some 100 miles west of the capital city, Francies noticed a German motorcycle, with the customary sidecar, speeding along a road near some of the 5th Armored tanks. When he and Martin went in to take a closer look at the motorcycle, they also noticed a German Fieseler Fi-156 Storch artillery spotting plane about 700 feet above the trees.
Francies later wrote: “The German Storch, with an inverted 8 Argus engine, also a fabric job and faster and larger than the Miss Me, spotted us and we radioed, ‘We are about to give combat.’ But we had the advantage of altitude and dove, blasting away with our Colt .45s, trying to force the German plane into the fire of waiting tanks of the 5th.
Instead, the German began circling.”
Firing out the side doors with their Colts, the American crewmen emptied their guns into the enemy’s windshield, fuel tanks and right wing. Francies had to hold the stick between his knees while reloading. He late recalled, “The two planes were so close I could see the Germans’ eyeballs, as big as eggs, as we peppered them.”
After the Storch pilot made a low turn, the plane’s right wing hit the ground, and the plane cartwheeled and came to rest in a pasture. Setting down nearby, the Americans ran to the downed plane.
The German pilot dived behind a huge pile of sugar beets to hide from them, but the observer, who had been hit in the foot, fell to the ground. When Francies removed the observer’s boot, a .45 slug fell out.
Then Martin fired warning shots that brought the pilot to his feet, hands raised. Francies confiscated the pilot’s wings and Luftwaffe shoulder insignia, as well as a Nazi battle flag.
“I never found out their names,” Francies later recalled. “They could have been important, for all I know. We turned them over to our tankers about 15 minutes later after the injured man thanked me many times for bandaging his foot. I think they thought we would shoot them.”
There was an old Tomcat guy on the east coast that always insisted on carrying a M1911 .45 pistol over Indian Country. He said that if you got shot down, the war hadn’t ended – the tactics had just changed.
But shooting an airplane down with your .45 while flying with your knees at 700 feet?
That’s pluck, right there.